Pärt Alina

A minimum of notes employed to maximum effect, expertly sustained in performance

Author: 
Rob Cowan

Pärt Alina

  • Spiegel im Spiegel
  • Für Alina
  • Spiegel im Spiegel

The problem here, if you can call it a problem, is a marked lack of musical 'activity'. Arvo Part eschews the bustle and restlessness of 'reality' in favour of space and relative quietness, and his music reflects that preference. Fur Alina is not minimalism in the sense of 'hypnotic repetition', but 50 minutes or so spent attending to a few simple but beautiful ideas. And who could argue with that? If complexity and busyness can be seen as valid musical options, then why not extreme simplicity?
What we have here is deceptively uncomplicated. Spiegel im Spiegel 'plays' with phrases that grow successively longer and hangs suspended in a major key. The shifts in emphasis and symmetry are subtle, but cumulatively telling. There are three versions of the piece, two for violin and piano and one for cello and piano, and all of them work well. The two 'fillings' in this musical 'triple sandwich' are re-creative extensions of one of Part's earliest 'tintinnabulating' pieces, his triadic solo piano Fur Alina. Alexander Malter had prepared a seven-hour improvisation on the original piece and Part chose two sections from it for this programme. The alternation of a fixed-tempo, major key duo (Spiegel im Spiegel) with a minor key solo set to no specific tempo (Fur Alina) is strikingly effective, and the performances have a sustained intensity that aids concentration.
The most conspicuous contrast is, to reiterate, between major-key security and minor-key disorientation, with security winning the day. It is the voice of internal exile, self-communing and highly personal but wholly accessible for anyone willing to listen. The big danger of listening to Alina, is that much of what you hear afterwards will suddenly sound like noise - too much noise. But it's a risk worth taking.'

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